Tag Archives: Beautiful Films

BEAUTIFUL FILMS: JOHN HUSTON’S REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967)

In hindsight, Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967) might mark a type of penance for director John Huston. It certainly represents a shift in his cinematic oeuvre. Huston, of legendary macho fame, had cemented his reputation with virile opuses: Treasure of the Sierre Madre (1948), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), African Queen (1951), Moby Dick (1956), Roots of Heaven (1958), and The Bible (1966). Yet, Huston also was occasionally drawn to sensitive or eccentric material. Both The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Beat the Devil (1953) became cult hits. Huston went from working with  in Barbarian and the Geisha ( 1958) to Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift in The Misfits (1961).

Having worked well with Clift in The Misfits, Huston cast the actor in the title role of his dream project: Freud (1962). Unfortunately, that production  was plagued by a pedestrian script and the tension that resulted when Huston walked in on Clift bedding a male reporter. It proved the wrong film for Huston to vent his homophobia.

Huston aggressively acted out his homosexual repulsion on Clift throughout the production, and the hypersensitive actor responded with a professional and nervous breakdown. A post-production lawsuit rendered Clift uninsurable for four years.

Clift’s friend and one-time co-star Elizabeth Taylor came to his rescue again (she had literally saved his life in a car accident during the making of 1957’s Raintree County), ensuring him for the part of Major Weldon Penderton in Reflections in a Golden Eye. Tragically, the insurance company and Huston demanded Clift do another film first to prove his capability. The result was the wretched The Defector (1966). Clift, already in extremely fragile state, would not accept a stunt double and put himself through rigorous physical demands, which literally contributed to his death shortly after filming.

On the surface, the self-loathing latent homosexual Maj. Weldon would seem to have been ideally suited for Clift. However, both Freud and The Defector reveal a glassy-eyed actor literally on the verge of self-implosion.

In the wake of Clift’s premature death, Huston cast the actor’s one-time rival method actor, , in the deceased’s intended role. Brando, who has rightly been called one of the greatest actors in cinema, delivers a very strong performance, as does Taylor and Brian Keith.

Reflections In A Golden Eye is based on Carson McCullers’ popular 1941 novel and familiarity with the literary source undoubtedly makes the film more accessible.

Still from Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)Huston’s direction of Reflections is Flannery O’Connor-like: impressionistic language combined with objective, clear-eyed view of darker themes and people within an exquisitely austere Continue reading BEAUTIFUL FILMS: JOHN HUSTON’S REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967)

BEAUTIFUL FILMS: BLACK SUNDAY (1960)

This is the first entry in 366 Weird Movies’ List of “Beautiful Films.” Consider this a sub-category; one that takes neither beautiful nor weird at face value, but openly views these two descriptions as genres which often go hand-in-hand—far more than one might imagine.

I will continue this list throughout the new year, and am open to suggestions from readers or peers in adding titles.

Black Sunday (1960), AKA Mask of Satan, marked Mario Bava’s directorial debut after twenty years as a cinematographer and uncredited assistant director. This Gothic fairy tale, (loosely) inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s short story The Vij (faithfully adapted as Viy), proved the ideal launch for a director who began life as a painter and son of a cinematographer. Additionally, Black Sunday was the first true starring vehicle for , making her the first (and, to date, the only) authentic female horror icon. Although both Bava and Steele had long careers following this, neither would ever make as good a film.

Bava’s painterly credentials serve his cinematography well: the forests, crypts, and castles are drenched in lush black and white. Mists, cobwebs, and rotting trees, filtered through Bava’s lens, compose a sensuous ruin. Setting a pattern that he would follow for the rest of his career, Bava’s visual storytelling is far more innovative than is the narrative, which is solid, but routine and simplistic enough to have spawned a plethora of imitators. Contemporary audiences will likely find the story less appealing than 1960 audiences did, in part due to its many offspring, and in part due to its its status as a homage to the  classics. Black Sunday is put over with such distinctive vigor that few will be concerned by its familiarity.

The casting of Steele is primarily a visual choice. Pauline Kael describes her as “looking like Jacqueline Kennedy in a trance, playing both roles in such a deadpan manner that makes evil and good all but indistinguishable.”

Still from Black Sunday (1960)Although never given a role which proved her actor’s mettle, Steele stood apart from cinematic “scream queens” in using her physicality to both seduce and frighten audiences, perhaps best summarized in Bava’s extreme closeup of her acupunctured face during an erotic resurrection, which is quite possibly the most pronounced scene of its kind.

Georgio Giovanni’s art direction cannot be underestimated in making the film a highly influential cult hit that gave birth to an entire school of European filmmaking.

Kino’s uncut Blu-ray edition boasts a sumptuous transfer that finally does justice to Bava’s chiaroscuro lighting. It also, thankfully, restores Roberto Nicolosi’s original, intensely innovative score, along with several minutes  of deleted scenes. The AIP version (buy) (which has different dubbing and Les Baxter’s vastly inferior score) features an interview with Steele,  commentary from Bava biographer Tim Lucas, and trailers.